The Retirement Resilience Program's Story
As millions of Americans enter retirement each year, many find themselves financially unprepared. Whether they have little savings, find retirement to be more expensive than expected, or have difficulty navigating government benefit programs, many people nearing or in retirement have pressing questions and need expert answers. However, for low- and moderate-income (LMI) Americans, it can be challenging finding a good place to turn for help, as most seniors in this group are not currently working with a fiduciary financial advisor and lack the resources to access this assistance.
To provide help for at-risk seniors who are struggling to navigate the financial complexities of retirement, FFP joined with AARP, the nation’s leading seniors organization, to develop the Retirement Resilience Program. Marketed to millions of at-risk Americans who may need assistance, the program offers a series of virtual financial education events focused on Social Security and other key retirement issues (participants need not be AARP members to join). The events are paired with pro bono financial guidance from volunteer CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERS® (CFPs®). Seniors who participate are able to submit their personal financial questions to a CFP® volunteer via an online Q&A tool, after which they receive a customized response; or they can sign up for a brief telephone consultation with the CFP.
One CFP® volunteer, Matthew Travis, has volunteered with the program for over a year, answering questions related to Social Security and Medicare, as well as retirement accounts, mutual funds, and saving. Matthew notes that “there is a lot of confusion when it comes to finances, and a large barrier when it comes to financial planning. A lot of people haven’t done much financial planning but can benefit by talking with a CFP volunteer.”
Another CFP® volunteer, Hank Fox, also has volunteered with the program for over a year, both by answering online questions and by taking phone calls. The top subject the seniors want to discuss is Social Security. “When I put myself in their shoes, I totally understand why Social Security is confusing,” Hank says. “There is a lot of information out there but it can be hard to find real answers for a given situation. I can help folks understand and apply the information better because I’m in the profession.”
When speaking with the Retirement Resilience Program clients, Hank strives to empower them with knowledge. “One of the roles I put myself in is that of an educator. I like to empower the participants by giving them the information and also giving them a resource to use for future reference should more questions arise later. They’re ultimately the ones who are going to make the decisions. I can offer them my recommendations, but I also want them to be able to access and use information as effectively as possible even if I’m not there to help.” With staffing challenges at many Social Security Administration offices and the chaos that COVID-19 has created, many seniors have said that being able to access good guidance on Social Security via this program gives them comfort.
Both Matthew and Hank are grateful to be pro bono volunteers. For Hank, being able to build a rapport and really impact a client even in a limited time period has been a driving force. “I’ve had many conversations where the person was initially calling for a quick answer, but as we talk, it lasts about half an hour. I find this totally enjoyable because I know I’ve touched something in them. They’ve trusted me, got what they needed, and that’s the goal that I have with these calls. I try to make sure they understand that it’s pro bono, so there is no financial incentive involved. I’m really here to help them as best as I can, and I want them to trust and believe that I am here solely for their benefit. Overall, I’ve been very impressed and pleased with this volunteer opportunity. It’s an excellent program.”
Matthew’s passion comes from being able to serve others and make an impact with his skills. “Even prior to getting my CFP® designation in 2020, I wanted to give back and to help people. This opportunity has been great — and really enjoyable. To volunteer as a CFP®, there’s a low barrier to entry – it’s easy to add value. You don’t have to learn a new skill. You already do this, so you’re just donating your time to share what you know and help others.”
Seniors who have participated in the program are grateful for both the guidance provided by CFP® volunteers and also the peace of mind from having a professional review and support their financial decisions. One senior says that “hearing that I am on the right track was very encouraging.” Another senior who has participated in the program several times says, “Every time I speak with a CFP® volunteer, I find that I learn something new about managing my finances. Most recently, the advisor helped me figure out that I should wait until full retirement age or even later to take Social Security. The one-on-one sessions are always very helpful, and I’m glad I signed up!”
Matthew and Hank’s advice to other planners? Matthew says, “I would challenge people to do it. You have a job that has blessed you with certain skills and talents, and a practical way to serve your community is to volunteer time in your profession.” Hank adds, “This program is an excellent opportunity to help others who need professional advice as well as hone your skills as an advisor, and that is a win-win.”
“There is a lot of confusion when it comes to finances, and a large barrier when it comes to financial planning. A lot of people can benefit by talking with a CFP volunteer.”
— Matthew Travis, CFP®
- Since 2019, thousands of lower- and moderate-income seniors have been able to access volunteer Certified Financial Planners,™ who have provided them with just-in-time pro bono guidance and advice on their most pressing financial questions via personalized email responses or phone consultations. Topics include a wide range of financial issues and questions including retirement accounts, mutual funds, saving, long-term care, and more.
- Volunteer planners often provide answers and clarity surrounding government benefit programs such as Social Security and Medicare, which can be confusing for seniors who do not have access to professional advisors.